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The History of Jamestown Virginia


In May of 1607, three ships carrying 100 English investors, known as the Virginia Company, landed on Jamestown Island. This was more than 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, making Jamestown the  first settlement in the New World.

The settlers thought the location was ideal with deep water for anchorage as well as a good defensive position, but serious problems quickly emerged.

Many of the original colonists were upper-class Englishmen and not suited for survival. A lack of laborers, freshwater, and food supply quickly led to disease and death. In addition to those hardships, there was conflict with the Algonquin Indians. While early on the colonist traded copper and beads in exchange for food with the natives, the Indians became more of an ongoing source of struggle, attacking the colonists.

Just three years, later the Jamestown Settlement was at the brink of failure. Starvation and disease had reduced the population by more than half and the remaining colonist considered abandoning the fort.

The arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies got the colony back on its feet in 1610. Tobacco became a cash crop and the main export of Virginia, bringing the first profitable export to the region.

The marriage of colonist John Rolfe to Pocahontas, the daughter of an Algonquian chief, led to a period of peace in 1620s. Jamestown expanded to the east of the original James Fort into New Town, which remained the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699.

During the American Revolution a military post was located on the island, and exchanges for American and British prisoners happened there. During the Civil War, the island was occupied by Confederate soldiers as part of the defense system to block the Union advances up the James River.

In the early twentieth century, the land was given to Virginia Preservation, and a sea wall was built to protect the island from further erosion. The remaining acreage was acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 as part of the Colonial National Historical Park.

Today, Historic Jamestowne is operated by Preservation Virginia and NPS and is open to the public. Visitors to the settlement can get a taste of what life was like more than 400 years ago.